Educator seeks House seat

A middle school principal will enter the race to succeed state Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence, setting up what is expected to be a spirited Democratic primary contest in 2008 between two young black candidates.

Montrio Belton plans to make education the central issue of his campaign. The 34-year-old Winthrop University graduate is principal of Monroe Middle School in Monroe, N.C., though he says he will resign the job if he wins the election.

"Who's more qualified to speak on education than I am?" Belton asked. "I have the practical perspective. That will give me instant credibility."

Belton will compete in the primary against John King, who ran last year and lost to Moody-Lawrence by only nine votes.

"I plan on running on my record, and I plan on running on issues," said King, 31, director of King Funeral Home in Rock Hill. "My concern is not about my opponent. My concern is about the betterment of District 49. I don't need to talk bad about anybody."

Moody-Lawrence confirmed to The Herald last week that she won't seek re-election when her term expires next year. Her announcement throws open the race for District 49, which stretches across heavily African-American neighborhoods in southern York County and has long been considered a Democratic stronghold.

The winner in the Democratic primary likely will face off in the general election against Republican Marvin Rogers, 31, who moved here from Greenville, where he worked in the district office of U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis. Rogers is the only declared GOP candidate.

Moody-Lawrence has signaled that she doesn't intend to make an endorsement. But Sam Foster, who previously held the seat, said he is taking a close look at each contender and will announce support for one in the next few weeks.

Foster said he is encouraged to see younger candidates take an interest in politics.

"This world belongs more to your generation than it does mine," he said. "Some of you folks have actually got to get involved. We just haven't had enough young people with vision."

Moody-Lawrence was first elected in 1992, then took office the following year. She is one of only three female black state legislators in a state with a 30 percent black population.